Anatoly Rifkin 521.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Anatoly Rifkin is a very good head waiter – attentive, polite, pleasant, helpful
and considerate of the staff working under him. Anyone lucky enough to sit down
for dinner in the hotel he works at, in Netanya, will not have to wait long for
good and speedy service.
But back in Russia, he was a doctor who studied
for six years in a medical institute in his home town of Sverdlovsk. How someone
with a medical degree and training works as a waiter is a long and rather sad
story and something of an indictment of the system here that was unable to
accommodate him because of the unusual medical fields in which he had
LIFE IN RUSSIA
Anatoly’s parents were both Jews, his mother a
gynecologist and his father an officer in the Soviet army. He served in the
Second World War and had a chest full of medals, which Anatoly still has and
doesn’t quite know what to do with.
He thinks he might send them back to
his nephew still in Russia. After leaving the army, his father became a
Born in 1958, Rifkin grew up in Sverdlovsk (today
Ekaterinburg) in the Urals, a central area of the former Soviet Union, and
although there is a substantial Jewish community, he and his parents had
absolutely no connection with Judaism.
“My father was a fervent communist
and I didn’t know what it is to be Jewish,” he says. “Israel meant nothing to
He served in the Russian army as a member of a tank team and became
an instructor. He says he never experienced any anti-Semitism. He doesn’t look
very Jewish although he does have an uncanny resemblance to the late British
actor Peter Sellers. After his service, Rifkin went to study medicine and
completed his studies at a medical institute in his home town.
specialized in epidemiology and preventive medicine, and when he started work he
was responsible for hygiene and work conditions in 78 factories with 170,000
workers in them.
Rifkin married a doctor – not Jewish – and they had two
children, a boy and a girl. The family prospered and he went into business with
a partner, buying and selling anything he thought would go – first food, later
One New Year’s Eve they were out celebrating with friends and the
conversation somehow turned to Israel. Rifkin remembered that he had an aunt
living in this strange distant country who had gone there in 1973.
don’t we go and visit her?” said his wife unexpectedly. They discussed it and
for some strange reason he didn’t yet understand, his wife was very interested
in settling in Israel. She argued that it would be a better place to raise their
children and nagged so much that in the end he agreed. Little did he know that
his wife had other plans.
COMING TO ISRAEL
Because they wanted to avoid
going twice, once to look around and once to make aliya, they opted for aliya
and burned their bridges in Russia.
His mother came too, happy about
seeing her sister again after many years. His father had died in
The plan was to learn Hebrew and English, to work for a few years
and eventually move on to Canada. But after three days his wife announced that
she wanted a divorce.
“I was in terrible shock,” Rifkin says. “I thought
I had a happy marriage. For three years I didn’t agree to a divorce until I saw
that it was hopeless and we couldn’t live together. I left the rented apartment
and since then I have not seen her or my children, who stayed with their
Things were as bad professionally as they were in his private
life. He took all his diplomas and paperwork to the Health Ministry and was told
that his specialties, including his degree in prophylactic medicine, don’t exist
here. He would have to requalify and after three years could work as a family
doctor – maybe.
“I’ve only done menial work since I’m here,” he
says. “I’ve worked as a care-giver for an old man, in a warehouse and on a
I’ve been depressed for many years. But once I took up
waiting, I’ve at least stayed with it. I’ve been working in the same hotel for
16 years and I’ve worked my way up.”
Waiting on Israelis is not easy and
he needs all his powers of diplomacy to avoid confrontations.
rude and uncultured and they don’t know how to speak nicely to someone they see
as being subservient,” Rifkin says.LIFE OUTSIDE WORK
He rents a small
apartment in Netanya and does not drive a car. He has a few friends, some other
expatriate Russians and some Israelis, but he spends a lot of his free evenings
at home with only a computer for company.
He’d like to meet another woman
but feels he has nothing to offer and no future. He does not see his children
and only makes enough money to pay the rent. He realizes he’s quite lucky to be
able to eat his meals in the hotel.
PLANS “I don’t see my future here.
It’s not my country.”